Special Report: An Autopsy Report on the Death of the Middle East Peace Process

By Curtiss, Richard H. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 30, 1993 | Go to article overview

Special Report: An Autopsy Report on the Death of the Middle East Peace Process


Curtiss, Richard H., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Special Report: An Autopsy Report on the Death of The Middle East Peace Process

"Nineteen months after they began so promisingly in Madrid, the Mideast peace talks risk turning into an empty ritual. . . Before the more pragmatic forces on both sides of the table are swept away, Washington needs to renew the sense of urgency and momentum by directly interceding with the parties. A comprehensive Middle East peace settlement would do American interests and Bill Clinton's international standing a world of good. This historic opportunity, largely created by American policies, should not be allowed to slip away."

--New York Times editorial,

May 16, 1993

If history records that the Middle East peace talks died on the May 14 last day of their "ninth round," it will mean only that that was the day the life-support system was unplugged. In fact, the "peace process" from which they had emerged died at least three months earlier.

Historians may quibble over whether the death certificate should read Nov. 3, 1992, the day Bill Clinton was elected president of the United States, or Feb. 1, 1993, the day Secretary of State Warren Christopher threatened to use a U. S. veto to stop the United Nations Security Council from imposing sanctions on Israel for its illegal expulsions of Palestinians. Both events inflicted grievous wounds on the process which had become the major foreign policy concern of the Bush administration.

Bush's stubborn pursuit of an Israeli-Palestinian settlement right into an election year was precedent-shattering. The resulting media opposition orchestrated by Israel's implacable domestic lobby arguably cost Bush his re- election. Now, with the peace process upon which most friendly Arab rulers staked much of their own political capital probably beyond resuscitation, the long-range consequences for them, and for the U.S., are just as grim.

It is the first major foreign policy disaster of the Clinton Administration, and the spadework all was accomplished well within that administration's first 100 days. As the dimensions of the disaster--and the ultimate negative consequences even for Israel--become apparent, many of America's most consistently pro--Israel columnists and editors will be the first to call for an autopsy to determine who is to blame for the death of the peace process, and for the setbacks to moderates in Israel and the Arab world that are certain to follow. Since, as was the case with Irangate, Israel's media supporters won't like what they turn up, you won't read about their findings in the mainstream press. Nevertheless, before clouds of obfuscation blur the outlines of the tragedy, here's what an objective autopsy report might disclose:

In the late 1970s, President Jimmy Carter was on the right path toward a comprehensive Middle East settlement. His problem was that after successfully putting economic pressure on Egypt's President Anwar Sadat to sign the first of two projected land-for-peace agreements, Carter's nerve failed when it came time to apply similar pressure to Israel's Menachem Begin to sign a land-for- peace agreement with the Palestinians.

Indefinitely Postponed

Because the Israel lobby was raising a storm of U.S. media opposition to his 1980 re-election campaign, Carter postponed further good works in the Middle East until his second term. But, not coincidentally, there was no second term.

Instead, emboldened by the separate peace that had taken the Egyptian army out of the Middle East equation, and the friendlier presence in the White House of Ronald Reagan, Begin launched his invasion of Lebanon in June 1982, supposedly with a "green light" from Reagan's secretary of state, Alexander Haig.

The disastrous consequences of Israel's "incursion" into Lebanon cost Haig his job. Virtually the first act by Haig's successor, George Shultz, was to propose, in September 1982, the "Reagan plan for Middle East peace." Like the Nixon-era "Rogers plan" and Jimmy Carter's Camp David efforts, it was based on U. …

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